by Bob Hanson
DWF Board Member
This year, the United Nations celebrates its 70th anniversary, but with a very mixed record of accomplishments. It has done much good by bringing together representatives of the world’s nations, but it has never lived up to its potential to—as the preamble to the United Nation Charter states—“save future generations from the scourge of war.” A key reason for the UN’s impotence, of course, is the veto power of the five original members of the Security Council. But few people know that this provision was never meant to be a permanent feature of the United Nations. I have begun to experiment with a petition to change this and other crippling features of the UN’s operation through what is know as a formal Charter Review. Read on to find out more about it.
History records that the majority of nations who were in attendance at the original charter discussions in San Francisco objected when the veto was first proposed by the winners of World War II. According to dissertation research by our former Board member, Shahriar Sharei, the delegates were told that, if they okayed the veto for now, this issue could be addressed by a formal Charter Review, which would happen no later than ten years from the founding of the UN. This guarantee was included as Sections 108 and 109 of the charter. It’s known as “the San Francisco Promise”—a promise that was never fulfilled because the veto-wielding members of the Security Council have managed to keep a charter review from ever happening.
The U.S., Russia, the UK, and the other favored-five like having a situation where nothing will happen in the world unless they approve. This makes as much sense as enabling the Governor of Texas to veto any actions of the United States Congress. The veto is profoundly unfair and undemocratic, in that it enables the holders to prevent any actions against themselves or their friends. While the veto has only been used a couple of dozen times—primarily by the U.S. and the Soviet Union—the threat of using it has time and time again kept the Security Council from taking much needed action to prevent conflict.
The composition of the Security Council itself is also the subject of much complaint. Why should France and Great Britain have permanent seats, while large and populous nations like Brazil, Japan, and India only occasionally get to sit on the body and don’t have a veto when they are on it?
Some of the other actions which need to be considered through a formal Charter Review include: 1) formation of a world parliament which could enact world law; (2) enabling the World Court of Justice to have the power of enforcement; (3) developing a volunteer rapid deployment force which could put out brushfire wars and do effective peacekeeping instead of relying on national armies—as recommended by all Secretary Generals from Trygve Lie to Kofi Annan; (4) creating better mechanisms capable of dealing with problems such as climate change or radioactive fallout, which recognize no national boundaries.
To strengthen the U.N.’s capacity to act, the idea of a United Nations parliamentary assembly is currently being promoted. It is based upon the idea that ordinary citizens and non-governmental organizations should have a voice in global
While we already have an International Court of Justice, it has little authority. The U.S. withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction in 1986, after the court ruled that we were in violation of international law for our actions in Nicaragua. Other countries have also refused to accept the rulings of the court, which can only be enforced by the Security Council. You can imagine how well that works if the nation ruled against is one of the veto-holding members of the council or a friend of one of them. An example is when the court ruled that Israel’s infamous wall of separation that was built on occupied Palestinian soil was illegal according to international law. Israel thumbed its nose at the court, knowing full well that the U.S. would make sure the ruling wasn’t enforced.
Another obvious shortcoming of the present U.N. is that in the General Assembly, India with over a billion citizens has the same one vote as Monaco, which has a population just slightly larger than Walnut Creek, CA, the town in which I live.
When the U.N. Charter was adapted at San Francisco in 1945, no one expected it to remain unchanged forever. The world has transformed in these 70 years and the United Nations must change if it is to be relevant in the 21st Century. Giving up a bit of our national sovereignty is a small price to pay for finally achieving a world capable of settling differences short of war. The world has gotten steadily smaller and we are all global citizens, whether we want to recognize it or not.
Bob Hanson can be contacted at: [email protected]
NOTE: The Democratic World Federalists are committed to expressing a wide range of views on the vision of creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world through a democratic World Federation. The views expressed in this article represents that commitment and not necessarily our official position.